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TBT (Throwback Thursday) in Aviation History: Atlant-Soyuz Airlines
With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990, the Russian aviation corporations had seen the end of the communist rule as a way to start new airlines to compete against the government backed Aeroflot. Utilizing old Soviet airframes, Atlant-Soyuz Airlines was born. The airline started in 1993 focusing on the ability to provide domestic routes with both passenger and cargo flights based around their new hub at Moscow-Vnukovo. The airline started with a wide arrangement of ex-Soviet aircraft, with the Ilyshin IL-86 and Tupolev TU-154 doing that passenger work and the Ilyushin IL-76 operating the cargo flights.
The ability to operate old Soviet airplanes coupled with the emerging Russian economy meant that Atlant-Soyuz saw some great early success, especially with their cargo division. By the mid to late 1990s, the carrier had solidified their domestic route map and started to look outside of Russia for new markets. Their first priorities became gaining new routes in old Soviet countries, leading to flights from Moscow to Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan.
However, success came at a price and as the 21st century started, the Russian economy started to struggle. The airline also started to face extreme pressure to replace old Soviet aircraft due to similar airplanes having a plagued history of accidents and mechanical failures. The old Soviet aircraft were also holding back any further expansion plans with most European countries blocking them from entering, meaning that plans for flights to the Czech Republic and Greece were suspended until new aircraft could be added. In response, the airline started to remove the Tupolev TU-154 in favor of the Boeing 737 and Embraer ERJ-120. While this did remove fuel costs and open up new markets, the cost of owning the newer aircraft hurt Atlant-Soyuz’s bottom line and sped up the carrier’s transition from a profitable carrier to one in debt. In hopes of creating more widespread popularity with the Russian people, the airline branded itself the “Airline of the Moscow Government” after receiving a 25% investment from the City of Moscow. The backing of the City of Moscow only partially stopped the bleed and within a few years the Embraer ERJ-120s were removed from the fleet as a cost saving measure.
In hopes to end the cash bleeding, Atlant-Soyuz looked to create a joint-venture with American cargo carrier Evergreen International that would allow for an increase in cargo on Atlant-Soyuz aircraft and open up the American market to the Russian carrier. The two airlines debated the deal for months, but eventually the deal fell through due to both airlines suffering economic woes and lack of a gain that both parties would achieve in the deal. With the cargo fleet of Ilyshin IL-76 aircraft aging and the lack of profits taking a toll on the airlines, the cargo fleet was retired in 2010 in hopes of unifying the carrier and allowing for more cargo usage on the Boeing 737 and Ilyshin IL-86 aircraft.
While removing the cargo aircraft was part of the goal for unifying the now desperate carrier, the airline took it a step farther and on September 17, 2010, Atlant-Soyuz Airlines became Moscow Airlines. At this point the City of Moscow had owned over 50% of the airline as private investors had pulled their money out of the Russian carrier since the decline. The airline would transition the red, white, and blue colors into a tan and maroon colored logo to match the City of Moscow’s colors.
Although the airline had rebranded, it was too late to make any impact. Moscow Airlines discontinued all flights on January 17, 2011 and moved itself into liquidation. The 15 Boeing 737s and Ilyushin IL-86s were moved to new homes after their years of service to the airline and over 500 employees were now jobless. Due to the carrier’s drop in passenger numbers and routes served over their last few years, Aeroflot and other Russian carriers were able to fill in the gap left and continue to provide similar services to those provided by Atlant-Soyuz.
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